From corporation to classroom, a thoughtful leap – Eli Sheldon, USA

Here at Daily Edventures, we love telling stories of teachers who have taken a less-than-direct route to the classroom. Eli Sheldon is one of those educators.

As a member of the Microsoft project team, Sheldon worked to keep development efforts on track. Starting this fall, he’s taking his knowledge and experience to Seattle’s Excel Public Charter School to focus on the most important project of all – transforming teaching and learning.

“I spent four years at Microsoft on a project team, and had come from college and summer jobs around education,” Sheldon says. “I was filling that hole with volunteer and mentoring opportunities and traveling around the world working with some orphanages. But I didn’t really have the day-to-day connection with kids.”

That’s when the classroom came calling. Excel Public Charter School is one of eight brand-new charters that opened in Seattle this year, offering STEM education to sixth and seventh graders. For Sheldon, the school provided a unique opportunity to pursue his passions.

With a curriculum focused on computational thinking, Excel is one of a growing number of schools that infuses problem-solving skills and technology into every subject.

“The teachers here – me included – didn’t really know what computational thinking was even two or three months ago,” Sheldon says. “Instead of coming up with a rigid definition for it, we really think about teaching by example. It’s things like algorithmic design, pattern recognition, decomposition — skills you can also label as basic critical thinking or problem-solving skills. We’re hoping that by the end of the year, (the kids) can all say, ‘I’m a computational thinker, and I can use it now for anything I’m working on.’”

Sheldon’s role is broad one. He helped develop the school’s makerspace and also writes for the Excel blog. Future goals include organizing a volunteer program and building a smart greenhouse using geometry, science, chemistry and circuits to control temperature and humidity. He also plans to post curriculum online, so that teachers around the world can benefit from this unique cross-disciplinary approach.

As for the rewards of the job, Sheldon has been surprised at just how curious and engaged the students are. “I got to introduce 6th graders to the term ‘algorithm’ for the first time,” he says. “One of the first things we talked about was, ‘Who can tell me the algorithm you might use to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?’ I mimed it, and they understood what it was. It’s a skill they have already and use in all of their courses here, in their day-to-day lives as well.”

“You can call it computational thinking,” Sheldon adds, “but at the end of the day, they’re really just becoming more successful with the projects and concepts that they’re learning.”

We’re proud of this Microsoft alum, and we look forward to seeing how he helps to transform learning for his lucky students.

To hear more from this committed educator, watch today’s Daily Edventure with Eli Sheldon.

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